On the first day of classes, Professor Alison Laywine told students in her PHIL 354 Plato class that it would be impossible for them to pass the course if they scored less than 100 per cent on the first test.
The test, which evaluated students’ knowledge of the lower and upper cases of the Greek alphabet and their ability to transliterate from Greek to English, is worth 10 per cent of the course’s final grade. It took place in class last Thursday.
Mystified by the intensity of the requirement, students were unsure whether to take the threat of failure seriously.
“It depends how strict she’s being,” said Benjy Sherer, U3 Honours Philosophy. “If it’s mostly an empty threat, there should be no issues here.”
Laywine, however, was unapologetic for the examination, explaining that knowledge of the Greek alphabet is essential for quality discussion of Plato’s works. She expected students who were serious about the class would put in the effort required to pass the test.
Additionally, Laywine reasoned that by placing the exam during the add/drop period, students could drop the course if they did not get 100 per cent on the test.
One impact of Laywine’s exam has been a steady decline in the number of students registered in PHIL 354 leading up to Thursday.
“I dropped the class because the syllabus terrified me,” said one philosophy student who asked to remain anonymous.
Laywine admitted that constructive class discussion can be difficult with the class’ maximum enrollment of 50 students. As of press time, about a dozen students had dropped the class since the first days, leaving only 34 registered.
Philosophy Department Chair Philip Buckley laughed at the idea that the test was used to limit student enrollment. He suggested instead that the test was serving student interests by ensuring they possess a skill required to succced in the course.
“We certainly would not drive students away from philosophy,” he said.
Although knowledge of the Greek alphabet is a useful tool when digesting ancient Greek philosophy, the design of Laywine’s test may not comply with Article 12 of the Charter of Students’ Rights, which states: “the evaluation of a student’s performance in a course shall be fair and reasonable, and shall reflect the content of the course.”
While it is widely believed that professors are not allowed to hold exams during the add/drop period, no guidelines in the Charter explicitly exist to prevent it and Buckley admitted that there are no systematic checks in the Philosophy department to assess the fairness of a course’s evaluation structure.
“I don’t go and check every syllabus,” he said, but stressed that regulations regarding syllabus design are common knowledge among faculty members.
Buckley maintained that if every student in the class is evaluated equally, he is comfortable with Laywine’s testing method.
“As long as professor Laywine does not prevent students from entering the class late, then she should be OK,” he said.
Students who feel the regulations concerning course fairness are not being followed can lodge complaints with the Senate Committee on Student Grievances; however, Buckley discouraged this. Instead, he said, the best way for students to find a resolution in a case like this would be to contact the chair of their department.